A JVP-led token strike is scheduled to take place today. Critics of the JVP, especially the government, have called it an attempt to derail the war effort and throw a lifeline to the LTTE. The JVP has pooh-poohed this allegation and claimed that a one day strike will have no impact on the war, which, it says, is fought even on non-working days such as public holidays.
Paradoxically, both the JVP and its critics are right. The JVP is right in that a one day work stoppage in the public sector will not stand in the way of the military operations in the Wanni. Its critics are right as, the JVP is testing the water and if today`s strike became a success, it would step up trade union action to make governance impossible. In the late 1980s, the JVP held galkatas at workers` heads to make them strike but today it is dangling the carrot of a whopping pay hike. The JVP has already made known its intention to launch a two-day strike, a three-day strike etc. to prepare the ground for a continuous strike in the end. In such an eventuality, there will be political uncertainty taking its toll on the government`s military campaign.
Turmoil in this part of the country will be a real godsend for the LTTE desperate for an escape route. In the event of protracted labour trouble, the government will use force to contain the JVP-led forces running riot and the attendant human rights violations will be grist for the pro-LTTE NGO mill going hell for leather to have the GSP+ concession scrapped and tighten the so-called human rights noose round Sri Lanka`s neck in support of the LTTE.
However, the government will be mistaken if it thinks it can continue its profligacy and avoid solving the burning problems of the public by taking cover behind the war for ever. People don`t live by military victories alone. They need food, clothing, gas, electricity, transport etc. at affordable prices. If not for their concern for the brave men on the warfront risking their life and limb for the country, people would have taken to the streets a long time ago. The government must be prepared to make the sacrifices it expects of the people. Has any patriotic minister given up his or her ministry on the grounds that this country cannot afford a jumbo Cabinet? One cannot but agree with the JVP on its demand that the number of ministers and presidential advisors be reduced drastically.
The government must not only economise but also be seen to be doing so. It could easily slash its expenditure by 25 per cent or more overnight, if it cares for the people and is desirous of sustaining its war effort. What has become of President Mahinda Rajapaksa`s much publicised order to the Cabinet to that effect? Was it yet another political gimmick?
The government should also realise that the success of its military campaign against terrorism depends on its economic performance. The country needs a strong economy to absorb the cost of war. Will the government get its act together on the economic front?
Workers have a right to trade union action. But, it behoves them to exercise that right cautiously and sparingly only as pis aller without jeopardising the national economy or offering themselves as a cat`s paw to sinister political elements with scores to settle and hidden agendas to promote.
Let workers be told that no victory is worth scoring at the expense of the national interest.